The McDonald’s menu poses a difficult choice for pregnant women, including the question of whether you should eat ‘junk food’ at all. Whatever the reason – a craving, a kids’ birthday party or sheer convenience on a day when it’s the nearest restaurant, pregnant women ought to know what they can and can’t eat at Mcdonald’s (or Macca’s, as some call it).
Can I eat Mcdonalds Whilst Pregnant? There are many items on the McDonalds menu containing ingredients that are safe for pregnant women. However, processed food is never a great choice in pregnancy. You’ll have to ensure your order is cooked fresh, and also adapt it by avoiding some ingredients.
Junk and processed food contain high amounts of sugar, fat, salt and calories, all of which should be avoided in pregnancy. Suffice to say, keep junk food consumption as low as you can when you’re pregnant. However, I’ve heard from many women that this isn’t just about cravings or simply ‘wanting a burger’, but sometimes fast food is the only thing they can ‘keep down’ when experiencing severe nausea.
Rather than guilt-trip women about eating fast food, I’ve tried to put together a guide on which Mcdonald’s items are safe, which foods are the healthiest options, and which should be avoided.
Since the McDonald’s menu can change from time to time and is different in many countries, I’ve broken down the choices for the most broadly available items, and the ones that cause pregnant women the most concern. The ‘healthiest’ item in each category is also highlighted, too:
McDonalds Breakfast Items – Eating McMuffins, Griddles, Biscuits or Bagels in Pregnancy
- Ensure that the egg is cooked through, including the yolk. The eggs are served cooked through as standard, but always have a quick look inside the bagel or McMuffin to check. The same applies if you order the breakfast burrito.
- If ordering meat (sausage or bacon), ask for your order to be made fresh. This is to ensure you’ll get meat that has been freshly prepared and is at a higher temperature instead of one that has simply been kept warm. The ‘warm’ ones aren’t necessarily unsafe, but the hotter the better.
- The cheese in Mcdonald’s breakfast products is processed and therefore safe for pregnant women to eat, though remember it adds calories and fat.
- Hotcakes or pancakes – these are safe for pregnant women, though try to go easy on the butter and syrup!
- Muffins, donuts and sweets – again, these are high in sugar and fat, but there’s nothing in them, ingredients-wise, that is unsafe for pregnant women.
- Oatmeal – This is probably the healthiest breakfast option, as it contains fiber, protein, and calcium. The milk in McDonald’s products is pasteurized, so the oatmeal is safe to eat. Try to reduce sugary toppings, and ask for it without fruit – see below.
- Avoid the pre-cut fruit – this may sound crazy and counterintuitive since you’re at McDonald’s and fruit is healthy. However, it’s fresh and pre-cut, which increases the potential for listeria contamination during the preparation process. If you’re ordering yogurt or oatmeal, ask for it without the fruit.
- Hash browns are safe to eat in pregnancy – it can’t hurt to ask them to be freshly prepared too, to ensure they are hot when you receive them. Again, they’re high in fat and salt and should be eaten sparingly.
McDonald’s Burgers, Chicken nuggets, Wraps and Sandwiches in Pregnancy
- Hamburgers & Cheeseburgers – the single hamburger is theoretically the “healthiest” of all the burgers since they are the lowest in calories (around 250 cal or 300 with cheese). Hamburgers and cheeseburgers are the lower-priced, single-patty burgers. Ask for yours to be made fresh. There is nothing in the ingredients that is unsafe in pregnancy.
- Quarter pounders, McDoubles, Double or Triple Cheeseburgers are all bigger versions of the same ingredients as the hamburger. Again, ask for a freshly made burger. Remember, adding cheese and bacon is simply adding calories with little to no nutritional value. The cheese is processed and therefore safe in pregnancy.
- Big Macs, Artisan Sandwiches, Deluxe versions, all the McChicken sandwiches and any ‘Feasts’ are all variations of regular burgers or chicken sandwiches but they contain lettuce. Ask for your burger or sandwich without lettuce. Pre-prepared salad leaves should be avoided in pregnancy due to the risk of improperly washed or stored leaves becoming contaminated with listeria.
- Mcdonald’s mayonnaise, which appears in some of the burgers and sandwiches, is safe to eat in pregnancy as it’s made with pasteurized ingredients.
- The Filet O Fish is safe to eat in pregnancy and has marginally more nutrients. The cheese is safe to eat but skip it if you can as it just adds fat and calories. Mcdonald’s tartar sauce is safe in pregnancy as it’s pasteurized.
- Mcdonald’s Chicken nuggets, selects and other breaded fillets are safe to eat in pregnancy. Ask for them to be freshly prepared. All of the dipping sauces are safe as they’re made with pasteurized ingredients.
- Ask for wraps to be made without salad. Any pre-prepared salad runs the risk of listeria, so ask for a freshly made wrap without the lettuce or other salad in it. The mayonnaise is pasteurized, so is safe to eat as is the filling – just not the salad.
Eating McDonald’s Fries, Snacks and Sides when Pregnant
- Fries are pregnancy-safe, though you could ask for them to have less or no salt on them, and choose a smaller portion where possible.
- Snacks such as fruit or veg bags (grapes, apple slices, carrot sticks, melon, cucumber sticks, or grape tomatoes) should not be eaten by pregnant women, who should avoid pre-prepared and packaged fruit and veg.
- The cheese in cheese bites is pasteurized and therefore safe for pregnant women to eat.
- Chicken bites can be treated the same way as chicken nuggets i.e. safe to eat.
Why you shouldn’t eat McDonald’s Salad or Fruit if you’re Pregnant
It may surprise you to learn that all pre-packaged and pre-prepared salad, fruit and veg should be avoided in pregnancy. This means McDonald’s or any other restaurant salad, too. It sounds weird because hey, you’re at McDonald’s and you’re being good for choosing a salad or some fruit, right? Unfortunately, in this case, the healthiest choice isn’t the safest.
Pre-packaged and pre-prepared salads can be a source of listeria. Salad bars (the self-serve type you see in restaurants or some supermarkets) are slightly more vulnerable to contamination but the truth is that all salad that you haven’t prepared and washed yourself runs the risk of listeriosis contamination. Soil and water are where Listeria monocytogenes is present, and it’s one of the few bacteria types that thrive in cold conditions, even under refrigeration.
This is NOT to say that you’ll get sick eating a salad at McDonald’s or anywhere else. Your chances of getting a foodborne illness are no greater than the millions of people who eat a salad from there every day. However, it’s the potential damage that listeria can do to an unborn baby in pregnancy that fuels the caution.
All commercial restaurants including McDonald’s have strict food hygiene practices and listeria outbreaks are rare, but they have happened in the past. When listeria outbreaks occur it can sometimes be out of the restaurant’s control. Some outbreaks are caused by issues further back in the food supply chain when the food is picked, prepped, washed and packaged. For example, the bags of apple slices sold in some McDonald’s and Burger King branches were recalled in 2012 due to the presence of listeria.
To be 100% sure, order your burgers, sandwiches, and wraps without lettuce or salad and pass on the fruit or veg bags, too.
Can I have McDonald’s McFlurries, Milkshakes or Ice Cream Whilst Pregnant?
This must be the most popular section of the McDonald’s menu for pregnant women judging by the number of times it’s queried. It’s the most common cause of confusion, too, because it’s not just a straight answer.
Let me start by saying that McDonald’s milkshakes, McFlurries and ice cream products (including Sundaes) are all made with pasteurized milk and cream, universally, across the board. That’s the first concern out of the way – the dairy is not raw and the ingredients are therefore safe for pregnant women.
The gray area lies in the fact that it’s not just the ingredients but the preparation that you need to take a look at when ordering soft serve ice cream, a milkshake or a McFlurry (they’re all made in similar ways, sometimes in the same machine). The same goes for the ice machine if you’re ordering a frappe or iced drink. The machines used to prepare these items need to be cleaned thoroughly and frequently in order for them to be safe, as listeria thrives in cold, dark environments such as ice cream or milkshake machines.
I’ve written more about this in detail in this article about the safety of ice cream in pregnancy. It includes a recipe to make your own, pregnancy-safe Mcflurry, too!
What this all boils down to is common sense and your own risk threshold. If a premises doesn’t look clean or you notice anything unsanitary, then don’t eat or drink there. However, it’s worth mentioning that McDonald’s – and many other chains – take cleaning and sanitizing very seriously.
However, ultimately the cleanliness of the machine that makes your milkshake, McFlurry, sundae or soft-serve ice cream is out of your control. You’re relying on good management and individual staff members to get it right.
Mcdonald’s Desserts in Pregnancy
Other than the McFlurries and Sundaes mentioned above, there are other desserts I get asked about on the McDonald’s Menu. The most common ones are addressed below:
- Apple pies are safe to eat in pregnancy as they’re fully cooked before being served. Eat it soon after ordering and don’t reheat or leave it at room temperature a long time.
- Cookies, muffins and donuts are also safe to eat in pregnancy, ingredients-wise, but of course, are high in fat and sugar.
Drinks and Coffees at Mcdonald’s During Pregnancy
It’s not just soft-serve ice cream, milkshakes or McFlurries (see above) that are made in machines that may be susceptible to listeria. Caution should also be exercised when ordering drinks, too. Common drinks served at Mcdonald’s include:
- Check the caffeine amount in the coffees – a large (or even a medium) coffee may well put you over the recommended 200mg a day for pregnant women. Ask for decaf if possible, and black coffee is the healthier option since it’s low on the sugar and fat from milk or cream. You’d be amazed at how many calories can stack up in a drink.
- The milk and cream used in Mcdonald’s coffees are pasteurized but if you’re ordering a frappe then the same caution applies to anything that is served from one of the cold mixing machines, including the ice.
- Smoothies or frozen drinks fall under the same category. The fruit puree and yogurt base are pasteurized, but it’s mixed with water and ice by machine, so it’s the same question about whether or not the machine is sanitized and cleaned thoroughly after every use .
- Soda isn’t recommended in pregnancy because it’s so high in sugar, has few nutrients (if any) and sometimes contains caffeine, too.
- The healthiest options are water or pasteurized fruit juice served in a sealed bottle (e.g. the mini Tropicana ones).
Three McDonald’s “Hacks” You May Find Useful when Pregnant
One of my oldest friends worked at McDonald’s for a long time and often used to tell me hints and tips for getting a better experience. Some of these apply to pregnant women, too.
- Ask for your fries without salt, your burger without pickle, or your wrap/sandwich without lettuce and it’ll be made fresh
As detailed earlier in this article, you should ask for food to be made fresh and you should be avoiding the lettuce and salad anyway. However, you may not know that if you specify any change or deviation from the norm when you order, the item will be made fresh. This is because many of the burgers etc. are pre-made in anticipation of sales and are kept warm, rather than being made to order. If yours is a ‘special’ order, they make it there and then.
- Eat a Kid’s Meal
Happy Meals or kid’s versions of meals are ideal if you want to satisfy a craving but also want to keep the portion and calorie intake down. A hamburger or chicken nugget happy meal is more than enough to get a ‘taste’ of something without loading up on all that salt and fat. Remember to avoid any pre-packaged or pre-made fruit or veg, though.
- Don’t Be Afraid to ‘Special Order’
Ordering “off-menu” or making your own creations has been a bit of a ‘thing’ at fast-food restaurants for a while. If there’s a healthier way of adapting your food, then do it. For example, ask for the filet o fish without cheese, burgers without bacon, and so on. Remember you can always skip half the bun or bread and treat it like an ‘open sandwich’ too.
In conclusion, there is, in theory, a large selection of items that are ‘safe’ for pregnant women to eat at McDonald’s. If it’s an occasional craving, treat or the only thing you can keep down, then I hope this menu guide helps. Remember, junk food should be eaten sparingly in pregnancy as it’s high in fat, sugar and is calorie-dense rather than nutrient-dense. That’s not to say that you should feel guilty about eating it, so long as it’s moderated.